Henry David Thoreau-ing It

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Me a bunch of years ago celebrating at Red Rocks (with food I can no longer eat)

Birthdays over age 50 are something else. On the one hand, you have to acknowledge you are definitely over that hill and the time ahead for you is far less than the time behind you. On the other hand, you know people who have already left this world, perhaps classmates that didn’t make it to your advanced age, and you are grateful to be here. It’s a mixed bag. I’m simultaneously glad to be 54 and annoyed to be 54. But time marches on and the only way to stop it is death, and that is not an option I am anxious to explore. My fingers are crossed that my luck continues to hold.

While I did not go into the woods like Henry David Thoreau, this month I have been taking a much needed hiatus from social media. My reasons are a little different than Thoreau’s, but the thought is the same. I wanted to eliminate the bullshit. I wanted to face only the essentials of life, to see what those people around me and the situations we shared in person together could offer me. I wanted to delete the distractions provided by the socials. I wanted to ensure I wasn’t wasting my life gawking at other people’s lives. And I needed to make sure I wasn’t so busy presenting a life to others that I was no longer consciously living one myself. I picked a curious time to do it too, given that this month is filled with experiences one would love to post on social media…birthdays, graduations, parties, reunions, and travel.

Still, I’m not doing it quite right. I admit to playing some games on my iPhone and watching playoff hockey and episodes of Formula 1: Drive to Survive. I’m not checked in 100% of the time, but I am present more than I have been. This is both good and bad, as I’m struggling with accepting that our youngest will graduate one week from today, and in August we will drive both sons to Washington and leave them (along with part of our hearts) there and return to an empty house. So it’s useful to give myself, from time to time, the opportunity not to focus on the huge changes that are afoot. It’s important to feel your feelings, but it’s my birthday and I don’t want to spend it sobbing about my most challenging, most favorite job ever coming to an end.

This weekend, Steve and I will be taking scuba classes. This should keep my mind off my kids and allow me to celebrate myself and my life and what I am able to learn, overcome, and accomplish, even at the advanced age of 54. This weekend I start the next phase of my life even as the last one is wrapping up. It’s time to make new friends. And if everything goes well and my ears clear and I don’t freak out underwater trying things that are way outside my comfort zone, on Sunday I will finish my first two dives at the aquarium among my new fish friends. I’ve done a lot of exploring on land in my life. Time to see what the sea has to offer.

I’ve decided to refer to this social media time out as “Henry David Thoreau-ing it.” I think he would appreciate my wisdom and the shout out.

Finally Going To Take My Own Advice

I have posted this quote from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on here before and it is the intro portion on my Facebook bio.

Me in a nutshell

Tonight, though, I’m finally deciding to take my own advice for real. I have been thinking for quite some time now that I need to take a social media hiatus. To that end, I’ve decided to go dark on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for a month. I’m not walking away from the platforms forever, just long enough to give my life a good detox. It’s not even that I necessarily spend too much time on them. It’s just that the time I do spend on them often leaves me feeling negative or isolated or frustrated or annoyed. I don’t need the ads. I don’t need the opportunity for comparison. I don’t need the divisiveness or the unhelpful and unnecessary commentary. I feel like too much of my life and my headspace are being taken up, frankly, by crap that does not matter.

Facebook has done some good for my life over the years. I’ve reconnected (even if a bit superficially) with some truly genuine people. I’ve used it to check up on and check in on friends who live at a distance. It’s been a good place to store memories of things I’ve done and places I’ve gone. If I scroll back through photos I posted, Facebook is a flip book of my life over the past 14 years. Back in those early days, Facebook was fun. Sadly, it has changed since then, but then so have I.

What at last led me to the conclusion that it may be time for me to take a vacation from the site was, oddly enough, an episode of South Park that I watched last night. Stan doesn’t want a Facebook account, but his friends create one for him. The next thing he knows, he has hundreds of thousands of followers. His girlfriend, Wendy, is mad at him for a comment another female made on a photo of him in a bunny costume. (That person turns out to be his grandmother’s friend who is 92.) His dad keeps bugging him to be his Facebook friend and to “poke” his grandmother. Remember pokes? Ugh. Sick of the whole thing, Stan decides to delete his account, but his profile has become more powerful than its user and it can’t be deleted. There’s a scene reminiscent of the movie Tron where Stan is now actually in the Facebook realm and there he runs into the profiles of family and friends. They keep saying things like “Grandma likes Teddy’s photo” and “Teddy thinks Stan’s bunny costume is fantastic.” And that is when the insanity of Facebook really hit me. This is what we’ve become.

In lieu of actual human interaction, we’ve become a nation of people who show our support and friendship with a thumbs up or a heart. Instead of getting together over coffee and sharing photos of our trips, we post them online for the world to gawk at. Rather than calling someone to catch up or writing a card or even sending an email, we hop online and try to validate each other’s existences with quick comments, funny memes, and likes. We also use Facebook to leave unnecessary, snarky opinions on each other’s posts as if this type of hit-and-run commentary is actually useful dialogue. It is not surprising to me at all that Gen Z is the most depressed and anxious generation yet. They may not use Facebook, but Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat serve the same purpose, a giant popularity contest and yardstick against which to compare themselves. Imagine the psychological damage when you discover others don’t find you interesting or likable at a time when you are still discovering who you are.

I am going to keep on using WordPress because I am still on my blog-every-day-for-100-days timeline, and I will keep Snapchat because I only use that to send silly selfies to my son at college. My other social media apps will be temporarily deleted from my phone so the temptation to open them is gone. I have no idea what this detox will do to me. I’ve been a fairly regular social media user for years. I’m hoping that by sometime mid-next week I will find my brain focusing a little better and my productivity at home increasing. If I am able to be more mindful and rediscover my inner peace, it will definitely be a win. I’ll let you know on June 5th.

Meow Wolf: You Are Here

Meow Wolf. Have you been? Have you heard of it? Do you have any idea what I am talking about? Meow Wolf is a lot of things. It’s a permanent art installation. It’s an immersive experience. It’s a mind-bending imagination and creativity trip. And it’s not to be missed, if you can help it. The first Meow Wolf, the House of Eternal Return, was opened in Santa Fe in February of 2008. Thirteen years later, Meow Wolf Las Vegas, called Omega Mart, opened in February 2021. The Denver Meow Wolf experience, called Convergence Station, opened September of this year. And it had been on our list of things to do since we learned about its planned opening. Today, we made it!

I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I think the best way to give you an idea of what the over 200 artisans of varied mediums do to create a Meow Wolf experience is share some photos. Convergence Station is otherworldly. Combining some items from our current reality within a futuristic, alien world, it’s a walk through both the familiar and the fantastical.

This is not your typical art museum. Here you can touch the art and take flash photos and no docent will reprimand you. There is no set path to follow, no recommended journey to take. It’s all about letting the creativity pull you through. We spent two hours entranced, wandering from room to room, through random doorways both obvious and not so obvious. We marveled at the variety of materials were used in fabricating this world, from felt to plastic, metal to paper. Everything you see is art. It’s unbelievably overwhelming. I’m positive we could return and notice myriad details we missed the first time. I’m ready to visit the installations in Santa Fe and Las Vegas and discover their wondrous worlds as well.

Two things make Meow Wolf a fully worthwhile endeavor. First, Meow Wolf makes art accessible to people of all ages. You don’t have to know a thing about the Impressionists or Picasso to appreciate the creations inside the building. Second of all, Meow Wolf’s mission is to elevate art in such a way that artists are no longer “starving.” It’s hard to make a living as an independent artist. This collective, though, allows artists the opportunity to use their skills, to show their work, and to be compensated fairly for their time and talents. This makes these alternate-world art exhibits a win-win.

The sign as you enter commands you to remember and utilize your own creativity. After leaving Meow Wolf today, I can tell you that it did inspire me. As I was walking through, blown away by the art, I was also excited to realize we weren’t on our phones other than to snap an occasional photo. We were in the moment…for two whole hours! Everywhere I looked families and friends walked together, discussing the art around them, pointing things out to one another. It was heartwarming to see faces (behind masks, but still) looking directly at you as you passed instead of into phones. It made me think about how fractured my mental life has become since becoming addicted to my phone. It made me think it’s time to start a detox from devices that draw my attention away from the present. It made me think about checking in with myself and my environment daily instead of checking out on social media. It also reminded me that I’ve always wanted to try knitting and welding.

The sign on the building says, “Meow Wolf…You are here.” You are here. It’s kind of nice for a change.

If you haven’t been to a Meow Wolf yet, make plans. It will be worth it. If you have been, I’d love to know your thoughts!

The Distraction Dynamic

Clean floors and holiday decor

You know it’s been a busy day when you hit 11k steps on your Fitbit and you never left the house. I spent the entire day cooking and cleaning for the upcoming food fest on Thursday. I did fun things like mopping the entire first floor. I ironed napkins. I baked cookies and pumpkin bread. I washed and folded sheets, vacuumed, and did some holiday decorating. I made simple syrup and juiced limes for cocktails. I got in time on the Peloton and managed to squeak in a shower as well. I am tired just thinking about all I finished.

On days like this, I am amazed at how much I can accomplish if I ignore my phone, computer, and the news.

Life is full of distractions. It’s too bad that most of them are ones we created. I am not one to wax rhapsodic about the good old days, but every once in a while I think we would be much better off without iPhones, apps, unlimited television channels, Alexa, social media, and the Internet. I think I would probably be able to focus better and get more done.

The Roads We Can’t Ever Travel

Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

On a good friend’s recommendation, I started watching Maid on Netflix yesterday. I finished all ten episodes already, if that tells you anything about the quality of the show. It is about a young, single mother trying to make her own way after leaving an abusive relationship. The characters are raw. Their lives are complicated and difficult. They have mental illnesses, chemical dependencies, financial struggles, and broken dreams. It’s painful to watch, but that is exactly why it should be seen. It’s a poignant reminder of how little we know about the lives of those outside our own circle.

In a time when it seems everyone is on edge and no one seems to notice or care about anyone else, when everyone is quick to anger and judgment, this is the kind of show we need to see. It’s a lesson in our common humanity. If you watch the show and it doesn’t make you a little softer and kinder to your fellow humans, watch it again. It’s time we get our heads back on straight. The pandemic has taken a lot of out of us. We’ve been isolated, stressed about our survival, our lack of freedom, our health. Maybe it would be a good idea to recognize that we are all struggling.

As I’m writing all this pontifical, pie-in-the-sky bullshit, though, I am realizing that I need to be honest with you too. There’s another reason this show grabbed me the way it did. It’s because a large part of it is about surviving emotional abuse, the abuse that has no outward scars so people don’t believe you were injured. There’s plausible deniability in emotions. Well-meaning people tell you to your face that the people who hurt you over and over didn’t mean it. They tell you that you’re being dramatic. They tell you that because they are fortunate enough not to understand what it’s like to have someone close to you manipulate, terrify, and crush you. The show is about deciding to put your mental health first and making the difficult, conscious choice to let others deal with their own demons while you face your own. It’s about using your outside voice to proclaim to the world that you want something for yourself, and you’re ready to believe you deserve it. While watching these characters interact, I saw my life. I saw their struggles and nodded my head. But I also saw their strength, and for the first time I am seeing my own too. It feels good to be at a place where I can like myself for both my beauty and my imperfections.

We don’t know what anyone else is going through. What we know is filtered through our own lens. Tread lightly. Be gentle with others if you can. It’s been a little rough on this rock recently. We can’t know the roads others are on, where they lead, or why they wind the way they do. We can’t help others read their map or give them directions. We can’t ever travel their road with them. We’re not meant to. We have our own road on which to focus and that one deserves our full attention.

More Alike, My Friends

fullsizerender

With all the ruckus that is going on in our country right now, with all the division and pettiness and anger and bitterness and resentment and finger-pointing and general nastiness floating around on social media, I thought I would just leave this here today as a reminder of what the truth is.

HUMAN FAMILY by Maya Angelou

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I’ve not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

Source: http://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/human-family-by-maya-angelou

Don’t Eat Something That Doesn’t Agree With You…Befriend It

Somewhere lost in our pit of a house, probably stuck in between pages in a book on a bookshelf, is a copy of one of my favorite comic strips ever. I cut it from our college newspaper way back when. The cartoon depicts two alligators, one shoved into the other’s mouth. A banner hangs above their heads that reads “Alligator Debate.” The caption reads, “Al suddenly realized he’d just eaten something that didn’t agree with him.” It cracks me up every time I think about it.

As I watched the presidential debate tonight, I simultaneously followed my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Don’t ask me why I would do this. Clearly, this being the first election in which I had access to such a broad spectrum of individuals via social media, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. While hoping, I suppose, to get a more well-rounded view of what other Americans thought of the debate, all I succeeded in doing was giving myself an even bigger headache than I already had. At one point during the debate, I told my husband that my favorite part of the debate is when it’s over. At least then the fact checkers get the opportunity to dissect what has been said and let us know what was legitimate and what was bunk. At that point I’m ready to start considering what I’ve heard, but I never start the process until I know what’s fact and what’s fiction. Unfortunately, I don’t think (based on what I saw on social media tonight) that very many people take the time to reserve judgment or to consider the other side.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” I haven’t either, which is why I love this quote. Most of my Facebook friends fall far from me on the ideological scale. If I were to unfriend those with whom I have a serious a difference of opinion in politics, religion, or philosophy, I’d be cleaning out the vast majority of the 311 folks on my list. While I won’t deny that I get great satisfaction from my conversations with the friends who see life through a similar lens, I learn an awful lot from those who disagree with me. So, even as those friends are making comments that make my eyes roll, I wouldn’t withdraw my friendship. Their ideas, beliefs, and opinions, only inform and enhance mine. Although, on nights like tonight when I am bombarded by opinions 180-degrees from my own, I have to dig really deep to hold true to Jefferson’s quote. I have to remember how important difference of opinion is to intellectual growth. And, yes. I have to remind myself not to want to eat the friends who disagree with me.

(If I manage to find that comic, I will post it here. I’m still smiling thinking about it.)

Social Media Manages To Make Politics Even More Distasteful

Here’s a good place for politics…a rally.

I dislike elections for many reasons. The flyers from candidates litter my mailbox. The cold calls from campaign offices soliciting my vote always interrupt dinner. The non-stop political advertising on television makes me do the unthinkable…turn off my television. The constant barrage of information, disinformation, and misinformation create an epic cacophony in my brain. In the six months directly preceding any election, I completely understand why some people are driven down the rabbit hole only to reemerge in outhouse-sized shacks in the chilly environs of isolated Montana where they can quietly stew in their hatred whilst planning attacks on the misguided government. If the founding fathers were here today to witness the degradation of a political process they so highly esteemed, they would determine that they should have spent less time drafting a thoughtful constitution and more time drinking and fondling barmaids.

And, just when I thought that my distaste for the election process could not be amplified, Facebook and Twitter came along to prove me wrong. Now, in addition to the aforementioned flyers, cold calls, and television ads, I get to endure the rantings and ravings of people I once considered sane enough to befriend via social media. Of course, all these friends are convinced they are posting facts (and not bastardizations of information that once held a modicum of legitimacy). The links to articles from often dubious sources are usually chock full of erroneous factoids. If the links themselves weren’t bad enough, they are nearly always accompanied by a personal diatribe so vitriolic that I wish I could wash my brain out with soap. Sometimes it’s like seeing a display of their ugly nakedness that is now burned into my brain; I will never look at them the same way. It’s disturbing.

So, why do people who appear normal on most days suddenly become rabid political junkies who feel the need to express themselves endlessly before an election? I used to think it was because they thought they might be able to change a misguided mind (and by “misguided mind” I’m referring to the mind of someone whose political views differ from their own, clearly correct views). But, seriously…when does that ever work? Not to get all pop music on you, but John Mayer’s lyrics seem so apropos here: “Is there anyone who ever remembers changing their mind from the paint on a sign? Is there anyone who clearly recalls ever breaking rank at all for something someone yelled real loud one time?” It doesn’t happen. By the time we are adults, most of us have more or less determined the things that are important to us. Plus, we’re stubborn and don’t like to be told what to believe. So, when you post something in an attempt to discredit or belittle another viewpoint, people immediately go into childish “la la la” mode with their fingers in their ears. You will not persuade them no matter what you say because they stopped listening the minute you implied they were too stupid to know what is “right.” Your lack of respect for their views garnered nothing but an immediate lack of respect for yours.

Years ago, my well-meaning husband told me he wanted to form a new political party called the Manners Party. It’s his assertion that people in this nation have lost their ability to treat others with respect and common decency. People are no longer capable of holding their tongues and listening with open minds or holding a door open for a stranger or even giving up a seat for someone who needs it more. We’ve become a nation of individuals with little or no concern for anyone or anything but ourselves. We’re the only ones who matter, the only ones who know anything. We’re a nation of people who feel we deserve something whether or not we’ve earned it. Just because we have rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the press does not mean we should use our rights to chastise, attack, or otherwise denigrate those with whom we do not agree. The media attacks on political candidates are only worsened through the use of social media. Blatant untruths about political candidates are bandied about on Facebook as if they were hand delivered by God. Anyone can say anything, and they usually do.

When I was younger, I looked forward to elections because they gave me the opportunity to learn more about the candidates and the political process. Now elections only offer me the opportunity to learn more about the self-righteous political views of my friends and associates, as presented through whatever biased, self-promotional media outlet they’ve chosen to revere. Oh…I still try to look forward to elections. But now I look forward to them in the knowledge that as soon as they’re over my social media news feeds will go back to being filled with random quotes from cute kids and clever ideas reposted from Pinterest that remind me that, underneath our political posturing and self-serving rants, we aren’t that different after all. We all enjoy a good lolcats once in a while.